Little Yampa Canyon campsites unveiled at Colorado Public Lands Day | CraigDailyPress.com

Little Yampa Canyon campsites unveiled at Colorado Public Lands Day

CRAIG — About 20 people gathered Saturday at Yampa River State Park's South Beach access in celebration of Colorado Public Lands Day and improvements to campsites in the Little Yampa Canyon.

Eleven dispersed campsites were identified by the BLM for possible enhancement, and five were selected between the South Beach and Duffy Mountain accesses.

Several organizations have played a role in improving the sites. Colorado Parks and Wildlife provided fire rings, picnic tables and posts that will serve dual-purposes as signs and boat tie offs. The BLM engraved campsite names on to each post, and volunteers from both these government agencies — as well as Friends of the Yampa, the Northwest Colorado Parrotheads and the veteran's service group the Mission Continues — gave time to clean up sites, install signs and make other improvements.

The organizations involved hope the campsites will add more recreational value to the stretch of the Yampa between Craig and Duffy Mountain, a portion that can be floated without a permit. This stretch is also unique in that it is largely bordered by public lands, and the water is calmer than more western stretches of the river.

"I think there's a desire from the communities of Craig and Steamboat to have a flat-water section right in our backyard," said Ben Beall, vice president of the river advocacy organization Friends of the Yampa. "I mean, this is the Yampa Valley, and you don't have to go far to enjoy a great stretch of river, especially if you have young kids or something like that."

Each campsite also received a name. Beall said the organization hoped to "personalize" that stretch of the river, instead of using a numbered site system or coordinates.

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There's "Antlers," named after the two large antler sheds volunteers found at the site while cleaning it up. "Railroad" was so named to warn campers that coal trains might roll through during the night.

Other sites were named by volunteer groups involved in the projects. The Friends of the Yampa named a large, spacious campsite "Friends." The spot has enough room for a group of boaters and a tendency to be grazed by what Beall called "four-legged friends:" cows. There's also Charliemike, which uses the phonetic alphabet to honor The Mission Continues' motto: "Continue the Mission." Finally, perhaps the most meaningful name is "Bubba's Beach," named by the Northwest Colorado Parrotheads for Parrothead Mike "Bubba" Brinks, who passed away last year.

"I'm quite honored. I had no idea that the Parrotheads were going to be able to name a campsite," said Suzanne Brinks, wife of the late Bubba Brinks. "My husband would be so ecstatic. He really would be. He loved the Yampa River.”

"Bubba Brinks was a big guy with a big heart," said Parrothead John Husband. "It's a big camp, very well-suited for Bubba, and it's a really nice place."

Brey said the most visible part of the improvements to that stretch of the river are now complete, but there's more to come. CPW is working to market the Little Yampa Canyon sites online and with print brochures. It's also working to create maps of the sites that will give visitors more information before they hit the river.

Beall added there is opportunity to expand more BLM sites in the area. He said the BLM has reported 11 to 16 different sites in Little Yampa Canyon, and "there is potential to expand some of these sites" in the coming years.

On the river, the organizations are working to combat invasive plant species, including tamarisk and leafy spurge. CPW and the BLM intend to improve signage that designates which lands are publicly and privately owned. The South Beach access will receive a new informative sign, as well as a sign-in sheet. Brey said knowing who is on the river will be helpful to agencies managing emergency situations and can help campers figure out which campsites are occupied and available on the river.

The sign-in sheet will also allow the BLM and CPW to show how many people are using the rivers, which helps the agencies determine where to direct resources.

BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Dario Archuleta said showing use is vital to how these agencies delegate funds.

"Unfortunately for the Northwest part of Colorado, we just don't see the use they see around Pagosa, Canon City, Royal Gorge and even Grand Junction, so it's hard for us to compete," Archuleta said. "A better way yet is to work with our partners to help us determine what is that use and encourage the use so we can start pulling in a little more money to help us manage these programs."

The BLM and other government agencies have a much easier time getting projects completed with community support and partnerships with nonprofit organizations, he added.

"None of us can do it our own," Beall said. "That's the moral of the story in getting these groups together. That's why it got done so fast."

As city and county officials increasingly turn to recreation as a source of income and an attraction to Moffat County, Craig Mayor John Ponikivar applauded the Little Yampa Canyon project.

"In Craig and Moffat County, we realize we have this great, untapped resource for outdoor recreation, and it’s something that we've ignored over the years. Our economy is going to change. Those three stacks you see are going to go away someday," he said, waving to the stacks of Craig Station. "What are we going to be when we grow up and our economy changes? What do we do to diversify? This is going to be huge for making inroads into what we’re going to be."

Contact Eleanor Hasenbeck at 970-875-1795 or ehasenbeck@CraigDailyPress.com. Follow her on Twitter, @elHasenbeck.